Last night, I took the tram, funicular, and subway to Istanbul Cevahir Shopping Mall, north of the city center in Istanbul. You might be wondering why, in a city with layers of history, culture, and commercial enterprise, one would take the time to visit a shopping mall. However, it has been my experience in countries as diverse as China, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and South Africa, that the development and success of large shopping centers showcases so very much about the patterns of economic and social development in nations around the world.
In particular, as nations begin to establish a growing middle class, these large shopping centers seem to spring to life. They are fuel by the growth in disposable income and desire to acquire products that are promoted and advertised as a part of the global campaigns of huge multi-national companies. In a nutshell, there may be no better place to witness the power of a globalized economic web than in the shopping malls of developing and middle income nations.
Istabul Cevahir is a six-story mall just a few stops north of Taksim Square in Istanbul. Each floor is centered around a soaring atrium that sports a massive 3, 6, 9, and 12 on the ceiling. Even from the lowest level of the mall, one can look up at these numbers and determine that these strange numbers represent a clock face. Many of the floors have small food stands interspersed throughout the common spaces of the mall, but floors five and six house the majority of the restaurants and food vendors. I must admit that I have never seen a more interesting combination of Turkey-based restaurants and larger American or global chain restaurants. While not uncommon to see Starbuck's, McDonald's, Burger King, and Kentucky Fried Chicken around the world, I was surprised to see Krispy Kreme, Sbarro, Popeyes Chicken, and Carl's Junior.
In terms of shopping, this mall had it all from major home appliances to clothing of nearly every brand imaginable. It included team shops for the three most prominent professional soccer clubs in Istanbul. It also featured advertising promoting items that would help to "complete" the perfect middle class lifestyle or even promise elevation in status. All-in-all, it was a very interesting visit that seems to reflect the economic indicators that Turkey's economy has moved millions into a middle class that participates fully in a global consumer society.